Sony’s latest APS-C mirrorless features some remarkable technology, says Andy Westlake, but is let down by its out-dated body design.

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Sony Alpha A6400

Features:
Build/Handling:
Autofocus:
AWB Colour:
Dynamic Range:
Image quality:
LCD viewfinder:

Pros:

  • + Astonishingly capable subject-tracking autofocus
  • + Excellent image quality in almost any shooting situation
  • + High level of control customisation available
  • + Relatively compact size and decent build quality

Cons:

  • - Out-dated body design is much less pleasant to use than its competitors
  • - Control setup is poorly-configured out of the box
  • - 16:9 LCD screen gives small display area for 3:2 stills
  • - Minimal touchscreen functionality
  • - No in-body image stabilisation

Product:

Sony Alpha 6400 review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£950.00 (body only)

Sony Alpha 6400: Body and Design

The A6400 employs a boxy, rectangular design with a corner-mounted viewfinder and a prominent handgrip. Magnesium-alloy front and top plates confer a robust feel, and Sony says that the camera is dust and moisture resistant. Unfortunately, though, none of the firm’s matched APS-C format lenses are sealed to match, but instead only its bulkier, more expensive full-frame optics.

Sony A6400

A tiny flash unit pops up from the top plate, and there’s also a hot shoe for working with more powerful and sophisticated external units.

In terms of layout, the A6400 is almost identical to its predecessor, with the only real change being that the screen that can now face forwards over the top of the camera for selfies and vlogging, thanks to the addition of yet another hinge to its articulation mechanism. However in terms of the body shape and the basic positioning of buttons and dials, the design can be traced back much further, to the NEX-7 from 2011.

For its time, the NEX-7 was an incredibly sophisticated camera, and while its default setup left a lot to desired, it could be hugely improved if you were prepared to battle through the menus and re-assign the controls more usefully. Since then, Sony has substantially reconfigured what the various buttons and dials do, and radically redesigned the onscreen interface and menus. Almost 8 years on, the A6400 is still an incredibly sophisticated camera, but while its default setup leaves a lot to be desired, it can be hugely improved if you’re prepared to battle through the menus and re-assign the controls more usefully.

Sony A6400

The Sony A6400’s controls are almost all found on the back

To be fair, Sony has now made all of the key exposure settings externally accessible, one way or another. But the problem is that everything is supposed to be operated by your right thumb, using control points scattered across the camera’s back. To change key exposure settings therefore requires a lot of thumb movement and button-pressing, which means that the A6400 is nowhere near as fluid or pleasant to use as its APS-C mirrorless competitors from the likes of Canon and Fujifilm.

The dual electronic control dials are a case in point. In general, this design feature is prized by serious photographers for enabling quick operation, because it allows one exposure setting to be changed using your forefinger and another with your thumb. But Sony has placed both dials for operation by your thumb, one on the top-plate and the other on the back, which fundamentally misses the point.By default, the dials are also configured to change the same setting in all exposure modes except manual, which again fails to make best use of them. Thankfully you can assign either dial to operate exposure compensation in the other exposure modes, which makes much more sense.

Sony A6400

The NP-FW50 battery is rated for 360 shots per charge and can be topped-up over USB. The A6400 can also be powered via its USB port.

Indeed the camera is highly customisable, and Sony has added a useful new My Dial feature that lets you temporarily assign different settings to the electronic dials when you press a custom button. I used this with the C1 button beside the shutter release to give quick access to white balance and ISO. Unfortunately, though, you get no visual feedback in the viewfinder when you change the dial mode, which can easily result in inadvertent changes. This is strange given that it’s clearly indicated when you’re using the LCD.

On a more positive note, the chunky handgrip is much the best I’ve used on any small rangefinder-style mirrorless body, at least when used with relatively lightweight lenses. However, the camera’s low profile means that it’s very shallow, with only enough space for your second and third fingers to wrap around. As a result, it’s not especially comfortable to hold with larger and heavier lenses, which is unfortunate for a camera whose autofocus capabilities should make it an ideal vehicle for fast primes and telephotos. I can’t help but feel that Sony really needs to develop a larger, SLR-shaped APS-C body with a proper, full-height grip, which would be much better suited for this kind of work.

Sony A6400

The prominent handgrip works well with lightweight lenses, but isn’t really deep enough for comfortable use with larger optics

On a more positive note, the chunky handgrip is much the best I’ve used on any small rangefinder-style mirrorless body, at least when used with relatively lightweight lenses. However, the camera’s low profile means that it’s very shallow, with only enough space for your second and third fingers to wrap around. As a result, it’s not especially comfortable to hold with larger and heavier lenses, which is unfortunate for a camera whose autofocus capabilities should make it an ideal vehicle for fast primes and telephotos. I can’t help but feel that Sony really needs to develop a larger, SLR-shaped APS-C body with a proper, full-height grip, which would be much better suited for this kind of work.

Despite all its handling flaws, with some extensive menu fettling I was able to get the A6400 set up reasonably tolerably. But even then, I can’t say I found it to be an enjoyable camera to use. Mirrorless cameras have moved on a long way since this design was first conceived, and Sony has been left trailing by other manufacturers who have a considerably better grasp of photographers’ preferences and needs. If you want an APS-C camera at this price point that’s both highly sophisticated and a pleasure to shoot with, the Fujifilm X-T30 looks like a rather better bet.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Sony Alpha 6400: Features
  3. 3. Sony Alpha 6400: Body and Design
  4. 4. Sony Alpha 6400: Viewfinder and screen
  5. 5. Sony Alpha 6400: Autofocus
  6. 6. Sony Alpha 6400: Performance
  7. 7. Sony Alpha 6400: Image quality
  8. 8. Sony Alpha 6400: Verdict
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